Welcome to another day of Nerds Gets Cheery, a festive series in which we’re looking back on some of our favorite holiday films and television episodes during the most wonderful time of the year!
Today, we’re taking a look at Silver Skates, a dreamy Russian period film that’s overflowing with romance and adventure. Directed by Michael Lockshin in his feature directorial debut with a screenplay from Roman Kantor, Silver Skates first premiered at the 42nd Moscow International Film Festival in 2020. Netflix later acquired the rights to the film, which landed on the streaming platform earlier this year, making it the first Russian film to be released in the Netflix Originals category.
Set in Imperial St. Petersburg, Russia in 1899, just before Christmas, Silver Skates follows the story of Matvey Polyakov (Fedor Fedotov) — a poor, petty thief with an undoubtedly pure heart — and Alisa Vyazemskaya (Sofya Priss) — the wealthy daughter of a major dignitary. While Matvey falls in with a gang of slick, ice-skating pickpockets in order to make money to help his sick father, Alisa fights back against society’s conservative views as she dreams of higher education and a career in science. There’s an immediate connection that sparks between the two star-crossed lovers, but many obstacles lie in the way of their happiness together. The film pulls inspiration from Romeo and Juliet and Mary Mapes Dodge’s 1865 novel Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates.
It’s hard to believe that this was the first major film work for both Fedotov and Priss, as the two bring both of their characters to life in such a charmingly endearing way, full of the earnest passion of youthful love. Together, they share a magnetic, palpable chemistry which elevates the emotion of the film’s climax to unprecedented levels.
While the enchanting story of Matvey and Alisa is front and center, Silver Skates is packed with a talented supporting cast including Kirill Zaytsev, Yuri Borisov, Aleksei Guskov, Severija Janusauskaite, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Timofey Tribuntsev, and Alexandra Revenko. Their respective characters contribute to the film’s entertaining and vivacious energy, with a particularly captivating performance from Borisov as Alexey Tarasov.
Romance isn’t all that this film has to offer, because there’s also an undercurrent of political commentary about social classes and women’s rights at the turn of the 20th century. Matvey’s newfound pick-pocket friends specifically target the rich, fueled by Marxist ideology as they wax poetic about the undeserving nature of the aristocrats they’re surrounded by. Meanwhile, Alisa’s story extends beyond the circumstances of her romantic endeavors with Matvey. Despite the fact that her father’s only concerns for her future are sending her into a loveless marriage with Count Arkady Trubetskoy, the brilliant Alisa pursues her love of science with a headstrong determination that has a wonderful payoff when the film comes to a close.
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As if that wasn’t enough, Silver Skates is also a just a truly magical visual feast straight out of a fairytale (with a fabulous soundtrack, to boot). St. Petersburg is a snowy winter wonderland, complete with a picturesque network of frozen canals and rivers and a festive Christmas market on the ice. There’s a heavy emphasis on ice skating throughout the film — including high speeds and many trick maneuvers — which is incredibly entertaining and satisfying to watch thanks to Lockshin’s lively yet graceful directorial style (and some excellent slo-mo moments).
Overall, Silver Skates is the perfect watch for those looking for a festive, fun period romance. And if you’re able to watch with subtitles, do yourself a favor and watch the film in its original language, Russian.
Silver Skates is currently streaming on Netflix.
Merry Christmas Eve and Happy Holidays to all of our readers! Stay tuned tomorrow for our final installment in the 2021 edition of Nerds Gets Cheery.